'60 Minutes' Highlights Ohio's Ongoing Heroin Crisis

By McCarton Ackerman 04/27/16

What is being done to address the epidemic that is killing at least 23 Ohioans a week?

'60 Minutes' Highlights Ohio's Ongoing Heroin Crisis
Photo CBS News

On Sunday, 60 Minutes tackled Ohio’s heroin epidemic, visiting the city of Columbus and its outskirts to find out how the problem is being addressed.

The segment opened by citing a recent study from the University of Cincinnati, which found that one in five Ohio residents personally knows someone struggling with heroin addiction. Angie Pelfrey, founder of the faith-based New Beginnings rehab facility in Piketon, showed a wall filled with the names of people who had died from heroin overdose. There were 50 names in 2010, but that number has since soared to more than 3,000. “My fear is that it’s never ending,” said Pelfrey, who explained that a lack of beds forces her to turn away up to 20 people daily. “I’m not seeing an end to it anywhere."

To help address the ongoing problem, Ohio has established more drug courts for nonviolent offenders. If offenders attend for up to two years and prove they are clean, their heroin charges are dropped. “I've been involved in law enforcement for four decades. And I've learned over those years that we're not gonna arrest our way out of this problem,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “Drug courts work. Some people say it’s the judge becoming a social worker. It's not true at all.”

Caitlyn and Robert (whose real names were not revealed) are just two of the people who have benefitted from drug courts. The young couple was arrested for possession of heroin, but have since had the charges dropped. Robert has gone on to start his own landscaping business, while Caitlyn enrolled in a pre-med program. “They didn't treat us like criminals, I think that was a big thing,” said Caitlyn. “It's freedom and if I had those charges I wouldn't be able to continue on the path that I'm on now.”

Not everyone in the state has been as lucky, though. While Caitlyn and Robert had a more lenient prosecutor in Franklin County, over in Hardin County, Jenna Morrison found herself slammed with a slew of charges including felony possession, after a 2011 overdose because she had the drug in her system, and felony trafficking, for selling drugs to a police informant. 

Morrison eventually got clean and went back to school, but says she couldn’t find a job because she was still publicly listed as a drug trafficker. Depressed, she turned to cocaine and ended up with five more felony charges. But despite the almost impossible odds Morrison must now overcome, Bradford Bailey, the prosecutor who charged her with the felonies, told 60 Minutes he was unsympathetic. “Where has she been un-treated unfairly? Everything she's done she's chose to do,” he said. "We're not giving her a free pass. We don't give anybody a free pass."

Check out the 60 Minutes segment:

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.